I’m not a social butterfly by any means. Never have been; it’s just not in my makeup. I have a very small circle of good friends (like maybe four) that I’ve known most of my adult life and that’s about it. The rest of the people in my circle are acquaintances that come and go based on my activities such as school, jobs, clubs, churches, etc. I was thinking the other day about why these people, more than any others that I’ve met in my life, have stayed my friends. Obviously there are a lot of shared interests and goals, as well as a shared history that keeps us bonded. But more than anything else, I think it’s because we’re all frugal people.
The things we do together don’t revolve around money (or at least not great sums of it). We don’t go out to eat very often. Usually we’ll do a potluck dinner at someone’s house. We talk about books, but we get those from the library. We like to walk together, go to the park, play sports, or go camping. If we go on vacation together, it’s because someone has found an unbelievable deal and we can all get in on it. We have game nights and designate a different person to bring the board games. We watch a DVD from someone’s Netflix stash or borrow something from the library. We visit free museums and low cost attractions. We’ll get up on a gorgeous spring Saturday and hit the yard sale circuit, then head for breakfast at a local mom and pop restaurant that looks like a dump, has cheap prices, but serves the world’s best breakfast biscuits (in my opinion).
Many of my acquaintances, on the other hand, rely on spending lots of money for their entertainment. They shop at the mall. They go to the movies every Saturday night. They eat at pricey restaurants. If they vacation together, it’s a cruise or other spa/resort destination that they just booked without hunting down a deal. It seems like everything they do has a spending component to it and it’s never a small amount of money. I have gone along on some of these outings in the hopes of meeting new people and usually end up feeling out of place and frustrated. If we’re at the mall, I don’t buy anything. If we go out to dinner, I tend to opt for a salad and water. I decline the vacations because I know I can get two or three trips for what they pay for one. It’s not because I’m cheap, I just no longer choose to spend my money in these ways. I have other priorities and dropping $300 at the Coach store because “It’s on sale and so cute,” is no longer one of them.
Yet when I suggest an activity that is less expensive, like going to a free museum or doing a potluck, they look at me strangely and then immediately suggest something else. It leads me to believe that it’s not the interaction and getting together that matters to them, it’s the consumption. This is why these people remain acquaintances and not genuine friends.
I’m not sure that frugality is what attracted my group of friends to each other in the first place, but there’s no denying that it has created a stronger bond between us over the years. It’s not so much about being frugal for the sake of only saving money, rather it’s that frugality has led us to a deeper friendship based on more than what we do together. Because our entertainment requires us to interact with one another (camping, walking, trawling yard sales, game nights, etc.) we talk a lot and about a variety of topics. We’re deeply invested in each other’s lives, problems, and triumphs. I know almost everything there is to know about these people and vice versa. We’re closer, I think, because the time we spend together is about being together and learning about each other, not shopping or eating.
On the flip side, I can’t tell you much about my acquaintances that hang out at the mall and go to dinner together. Much of their entertainment is passive. Watching movies doesn’t give you much time to talk. Conversations at the mall revolve around what to buy next or which store has the best gizmos or what’s hot this year. Even on their vacations they are so focused on consumption (where to shop, where to eat, etc.) that they don’t really spend quality time together. When I’m with them, I don’t learn much about them as people, only about their taste in shoes and handbags. That’s not to say that you can’t have quality time and spend money at the same time, just that it’s more difficult, I think, to get beyond the consumption and into a conversation that’s more “real.”
The funny thing is, my spendy acquaintances have an enormous circle of “friends.” The groups are almost never the same and they travel in packs of ten or more. Maybe this is another reason I don’t know any of them very well; there are too many at one time to interact with. There are a lot of people, it seems, who like to hang out together and spend money. Whereas my little group remains small and almost never adds another member because most people that we try to bring into the fold ultimately don’t enjoy our lifestyle. They’d rather hang with the spendy people. Which means, of course, that they are not the friends for us. It’s a lot like high school and we are not the cool people, apparently.
I’m fortunate that having such a small circle of friends does not bother me. I prefer small groups and do quite well alone. But I have met frugal people who are incredibly frustrated by the fact that it seems so difficult to make and maintain friendships with other frugal people. They would prefer to have a larger circle of friends and be more social. Why is it so hard to find other frugal people who don’t want to spend, but instead prefer to interact? I think it’s simply a numbers game. There are a lot fewer frugal people (at least in this country) than spendy people. It’s tough to find those needles in the haystack and, when you do, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have anything beyond frugality in common. You both may be frugal, but she might like heavy metal music and tattoos and you’re more of a pink Izod shirt type of girl.
So does being frugal doom you to be friendless? I don’t think so, but I do think it requires a bit more effort to find the people you click with. Obviously when the time you spend together is not based on consumption but quality interaction, you’re going to need more common ground to make the relationship work. So what can you do to enlarge your circle of friends if you want to be more social but don’t want to spend money?
First, look where you like to go. If you like the library, get involved in some of the programs there and see who turns up. Go to that special exhibit at your favorite free museum. If you’re frugal and environmentally conscious, try one of the environmental groups around town. Churches can be a mixed bag. At some you’ll find frugal people and at others you’ll find the ultimate spenders. Visit a few (if you’re religious) and see if any attract like-minded people. Think about the things you like to do and the places you like to go. Chances are, other like minded people go there, too.
Second, you can try to convert others to your mindset. This is actually how one of my friends came to join our little group. She hung out with my spendy coworkers, but she never seemed comfortable and she frequently talked about her financial concerns. I invited her to a few of our gatherings and she was much more at home. We never preached at her or tried to cram frugality down her throat, we simply modeled a different lifestyle than what she was used to. She embraced it and us and has been our friend ever since. If one of your acquaintances seems like he or she might embrace your lifestyle, you can try to gently lead them down the path.
Third, volunteer your time. Pick an organization that you support and volunteer your time. Volunteer at the library, the free museum, the homeless shelter, the roadside clean up detail, or whatever strikes your fancy. Chances are, many of the people volunteering will not be heavily into consumerism. Some will, I’m sure, but it seems like most people who freely volunteer their time are also conscious of the benefits of frugality. The two seem to go hand in hand. If nothing else, you’re providing valuable help where it’s needed.
Fourth, try taking a class in something frugality-related. Cooking, crafting, gardening, basic finance, woodworking, home improvement (especially DIY-type classes), are all things that attract frugal people. Think about your interests and take a class to match. You’ll probably meet a few people who share your mindset.
Fifth, follow your interests. If you like the outdoors, there are lots of camping and hiking groups. Like exercise? There are plenty of running, walking or biking groups. If you like knitting, quilting, scrapbooking or other craft projects, you can probably find a crafting circle to hang out with. If you like cooking, there are cooking groups that swap recipes and host potluck or progressive meals. Book lovers can find a book club to match almost any reading taste. Writers can do NaNoWriMo in November and hang out with (or commiserate with) other crazy people who want to write a novel in a month. The options are endless. Think of what interests you and go to some gatherings.
Of course, none of this guarantees that you’ll make a ton of friends. You’ll meet a lot of people, but whether you connect with them or not depends on a lot of factors. But by going to places where other frugal people go and participating in activities that aren’t based on consumption, you’ll increase your pool of possibilities. If you’re very lucky you may come away with one or two who will become friends for life.
Image courtesy of D.miss (terre)